When I read my dad's adoption file and found my grandfather's Canadian Army discharge date, I had no way of knowing what the one little number would reveal. I had no way of knowing the pain it would reveal and how it would affect my dad. After finding the date, I went to the Canadian Army webpage to search for military records. I found a World War I listing for Charles E F Brown, but the birth year was off by four years and he was born in England. I read the Attestation Form and it stated he was 5'8". My dad's adoption file described him as tall. I was frustrated and thought that we had hit another dead end. The Canadian Archives, however, have been in the process of digitizing all World War I military records. Lucky for me, we were searching for someone at the beginning of the alphabet. Just a couple of weeks after first looking at the website, the full military file for Charles E F Brown was available online. I was convinced it wasn't him, but I decided to read the file anyway. The information contained in that file would begin a three week frenzy of searching and finding and joy and sadness.
The file stated his next of kin was F. Brown. My great-grandfather was Frank Brown, but there are tons of F. Browns in the world. Just a coincidence. His will left everything to his mother, K. Brown. My great-grandmother was Kathleen Brown, but again, just a coincidence. This Charles was blind in his left eye. So was my Charles. I was starting to have the feeling that maybe this wasn't a coincidence after all. I read through sixty-five pages of medical documents and pay records before finally coming to the page that would change the course of our search, the discharge form. There was the same discharge date as my grandfather and believe it or not, there was my grandfather's birth date 2/10/1898. It had apparently been recorded incorrectly at some point. How could this be? The file stated he was born in Old Swinford, Stourbridge, England. My grandfather stated he was born in Plymouth, Indiana. It was in census records, on his marriage license, on his death certificate. Although my dad and I were reveling in the fact that we had found his record, we were left with so many questions. Why did he lie about where he was from? Did he have something to hide? How did he get from England to Canada? We knew he had been in Canada, he told people he worked in a lumber mill, but the Canadian Army was certainly not a lumber mill. He stated he lost his eye working there, but his military file stated he had damaged it as a child. The military file stated he had been in a machine gun corps. He was lucky to have survived. Why wouldn't he be proud of that?
*As a side note, my dad and one of his older brothers are both Vietnam Veterans. Apparently my grandfather was a World War I Veteran. The paperwork listed my great-grandfather as military as well. I feel very proud about that.*
At this point, our head's were spinning. My cousin's husband, who has been helping me with all this, messaged a relative in Amsterdam. This relative is a genealogy pro and has access to European records online (I have not yet upgraded to Ancestry World View). Within a matter of hours, he located the family in the 1901 England census. Francis (great-grandfather), Kathleen (great-grandmother), my grandfather, his sister Elsie and his brother Percy. They were living with Kathleen's mother and uncle. Now we were getting somewhere. Other census records were quickly located, which led to birth records for Elsie Kathleen Mary (1895), Percy John Hector (1900) and Freda Doris Elizabeth (1904). We had a little hiccup when we kept finding my great-grandmother under the maiden name Skinner, not Cousins, but quickly determined that Cousins was her mother's second married name. As a child, I'm sure that my grandfather knew his grandmother and so assumed that was his mother's maiden name as well. We were able to trace the family backwards for several generations with little work. Working forward, we were able to find records to 1911. The 1911 census would leave us with more questions than answers and would lead us on a journey that we were not sure we wanted to take.